DOJ breaks up alleged genetic testing fraud scheme estimated at $2.1 billion

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/doj-breaks-alleged-genetic-testing-fraud-scheme-estimated-21-billion?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkdNMU56WmxabVl3TWpRMSIsInQiOiI0dlhaYUJpT2xBU0FqeDNmWkRlZHVZYnRsZ2xBK3pxMmN6RG5kS3Q1UWgrWFYyNllIK2lLZEYzclRDWUYyTFwvOGdhUzRVSnlscG5MQjBtY0NwT2d1TjZHdXJYRUlYRGszVEhrQmY5b0xhRDlFTWNTNUEwWnVvWGUwZXE3ME9kdGgifQ%3D%3D

The defendants ordered unnecessary tests that were reimbursed by Medicare, with laboratories sharing the profit, DOJ says.

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 35 people with unlawfully charging Medicare $2.1 billion in what it said is one of the largest healthcare fraud schemes in history.

The 35 alleged offenders were charged in five separate federal districts, and were linked to dozens of telemedicine firms and laboratories focused on genetic testing for cancer. The people charged, including nine doctors and one other medical professional, cumulatively billed Medicare billions for cancer genetic tests, the DOJ said in a press release.

The charges were a culmination of coordinated law enforcement activities over the past month that were led by the Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Unit, resulting in charges against more than 380 individuals who allegedly billed federal healthcare programs for more than $3 billion, and allegedly prescribed and dispensed approximately 50 million controlled substance pills in Houston, across Texas, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, the Northeast, Florida and Georgia, and the Midwest.

These include charges against 105 defendants for opioid-related offenses, and charges against 178 medical professionals.

The investigation targeted an alleged scheme involving the payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes by CGx laboratories in exchange for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries by medical professionals working with fraudulent telemedicine companies for expensive, and medically unnecessary, cancer genetic tests.

According to the DOJ, the targets of the scheme were primarily seniors, who were approached at health fairs, at their homes during door-to-door visits, or through telemarketing calls. The “recruiters,” as they were called, would approach seniors about supposedly free cancer screenings or generic cheek swab tests, and the recruiters would then obtain the seniors’ Medicare information for the purposes of fraudulent billing or identify theft.

The recruiter would then get a doctor to sign off on a genetic so a lab would process it, and then pay a kickback in exchange for ordering the test. The lab would process the test and bill Medicare, and once it was reimbursed, would share the proceeds with the recruiter, according to the charges.

Often, the test results were not provided to the beneficiaries, or were worthless to their actual doctors. Some of the defendants allegedly controlled a telemarketing network that lured hundreds of thousands of elderly and/or disabled patients into a criminal scheme that affected victims across the U.S.

The defendants allegedly paid doctors to prescribe CGx testing, either without any patient interaction or with only a brief phone conversation with patients they had never met or seen.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

In addition to the DOJ charges, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Center for Program Integrity said it took adverse administrative action against cancer genetic testing companies and medical professionals who submitted more than $1.7 billion in claims to the Medicare program.

The DOJ Criminal Division, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and the FBI, spearheaded the investigation.

The DOJ calls the scheme one of the largest it has ever handled.

THE LARGER TREND

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $16 billion.

In addition, CMS, working in conjunction with the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

The newest Medicare fraud scheme is the second to be uncovered in the last month. Earlier in September, a telemedicine CEO pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive healthcare kickbacks and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme estimated at $424 million.

ON THE RECORD

“Unfortunately, audacious schemes such as those alleged in the indictments are pervasive and exploit the promise of new medical technologies such as genetic testing and telemedicine for financial gain, not patient care,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of HHS-OIG. “Instead of receiving quality care, Medicare beneficiaries may be victimized in the form of scare tactics, identity theft, and in some cases, left to pay out of pocket.  We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to investigate those who steal from federal healthcare programs and protect the millions of Americans who rely on them.”

“Healthcare fraud and related illegal kickbacks and bribes impact the entire nation,” said Assistant Director Terry Wade of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Fraudulently using genetic testing laboratories for unnecessary tests erodes the confidence of patients and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. These investigations revealed some medical professionals placing their greed before the needs of the patients and communities they serve. Today’s law enforcement actions reinforce that the FBI, along with its partners, will continue to pursue and stop this type of illegal activity.”

 

Texas docs, pharmacists charged in alleged opioid pill mill scheme

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/texas-docs-pharmacists-charged-in-alleged-opioid-pill-mill-scheme/563270/

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday it charged 58 people in Texas in connection with their alleged roles in various schemes to defraud government health programs, including distributing and dispensing medically unnecessary opioids, billing Medicaid for non-emergency ambulance services that were never actually provided and paying kickbacks and laundering money through durable medical equipment companies.
  • The allegations involved multiple programs including Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Department of Labor-Office of Worker’s Compensation programs as well as private insurance companies.
  • Separately, DOJ brought charges against a total of 34 people for their alleged participation in Medicare and Medicaid fraud schemes in other states, including California, Arizona and Oregon. Seventeen of the people charged in those schemes were doctors or licensed medical professionals.

Dive Insight:

Created in 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force​ has units operating in 23 districts, and has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. It’s a joint effort between DOJ and HHS to deter healthcare fraud.

According to the most recent statistics, from January, the strike force has brought 2,117 criminal actions, secured 2,754 indictments and recovered $3.3 billion in connection with its investigations.

HHS declared the opioid crisis a national emergency in 2017. And the DOJ is increasingly focusing on fraud related to opioids, including going after medical professionals allegedly involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics.

“Sadly, opioid proliferation is nothing new to Americans,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said in a statement announcing the charges. “What is new is the reinforced fight being taken to dirty doctors and shady pharmacists,” he said.

The coordinated healthcare fraud enforcement operation across Texas resulted in charges involving networks of “pill mill” clinics that led to $66 million in losses and the distribution of 6.2 million pills, the government said. Sixteen doctors and pharmacists were among those charged.

And that’s on top of last month, when the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Houston Strike Force charged dozens of people in a trafficking network that diverted more than 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol pills.

The Texas actions also involved healthcare fraud other than opioid diversion, including fraudulent physician orders for durable medical equipment, fraudulent claims for ambulance services and stealing protected healthcare information.

The separate actions in California, Arizona and Oregon involved schemes that ran the gamut from billing for medically unnecessary compounded drugs, unnecessary cardiac treatments and testing, billing for chiropractic services never provided and a hospice kickback scheme.

 

 

 

DOJ investigates Providence St. Joseph Health’s Swedish Health Services

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/providers/doj-investigates-providence-st-joseph-healths-swedish-health-services?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance-thursday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190829&utm_content=article1-readmore

The U.S. Department of Justice is probing Providence St. Joseph Health’s Swedish Health Services in a civil investigation, the not-for-profit integrated health system revealed in its recent quarterly earnings report.

The DOJ requested documents from Seattle-based Swedish related to certain arrangements, joint ventures and physician organizations, according to the report. Providence St. Joseph said that the investigation will not have a “material adverse effect” on its financials.

“Like all large institutions, Swedish is subject periodically to investigations and lawsuits,” Swedish said in a statement. “Per our policy, we are not able to discuss the specifics of any investigation. However, Swedish fully cooperates with all investigations.”

Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph also disclosed in the earnings report malpractice allegations against certain affiliates, although the “probable recoveries in these proceedings and the estimated costs and expenses of defense will be within applicable insurance limits or will not materially adversely affect the business or properties of the system,” the organization said.

The DOJ said in a statement that it does not confirm, deny or comment on investigations.

In 2014, HHS’ Office of Inspector General audited Swedish Health’s Swedish Medical Center–First Hill, an acute-care hospital in Seattle. It found that about two-thirds of 257 inpatient and outpatient claims from 2010 to 2012 did not fully comply with Medicare billing requirements, resulting in net overpayments of nearly $937,500.

Also, Swedish Health was accused in 2017 of asking neurosurgeons to increase patient volume and perform unnecessary surgeries.

The recent investigation involving Swedish may relate to a delicate balance providers must strike with their affiliates.

Health systems have been carefully navigating around the Stark law, which aims to curb Medicare and Medicaid spending by prohibiting physicians and hospitals from making referrals based on their financial self-interest. But the 1989 statutes conflict with outcome-oriented care, providers argue as the law dissuades them from incentive-based arrangements.

The Stark law offers little, if any, room for error and carries significant financial penalties, experts said. Maintaining compliance and abiding audits can drain resources.

Through six months of Providence St. Joseph Health’s 2019 fiscal year, it reported an operating income of $250 million on operating revenue of $12.6 billion, up from $30 million of operating income on $12 billion of operating revenue over the same period prior. The health system reported $41 million in restructuring costs, as it aims to streamline operations and boost productivity.

For 2018, the organization drew just $3 million in operating income last year on $24.4 billion in total operating revenue. Excluding asset impairment, severance and consulting costs related to restructuring, the system said its 2018 operating income would have been $165 million. The restructuring costs are being spread across 2018 and 2019.

As it restructures, Providence St. Joseph has been expanding its non-acute portfolio, forming a for-profit population health management company, launching its second, $150 million venture fund and buying a revenue-cycle management company based on blockchain technology.

 

 

 

Michigan surgeon accused of $60M billing fraud

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/michigan-surgeon-accused-of-60m-billing-fraud.html?origin=rcme&utm_source=rcme

Image result for money laundering

An indictment unsealed July 10 charges Vasso Godiali, MD, with orchestrating a $60 million healthcare fraud scheme and laundering proceeds from the scheme, according to the Department of Justice.

Dr. Godiali, a vascular surgeon, allegedly submitted false claims to Medicaid, Medicare and Blue Cross of Michigan for services that weren’t provided and exploited Modifier 59 to improperly unbundle claims. Dr. Godiali allegedly claimed he was performing several separate procedures when he was only entitled to a single reimbursement for a single procedure, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment further alleges Dr. Godiali used six corporations to launder roughly $49 million in proceeds from the healthcare fraud scheme, according to the Justice Department.

Dr. Godiali faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the healthcare fraud charge and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for money laundering, according to the Justice Department.

 

 

Hospital Pass-through Billing Scheme Detailed in Florida Plea Agreement

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/hospital-pass-through-billing-scheme-detailed-florida-plea-agreement

Kyle Marcotte of Jacksonville Beach admitted to using rural hospitals in a scheme that kicked back more than $50 million in insurance reimbursements for urine tests.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Marcotte, the owner of a substance abuse treatment facility, sent his patients’ urine samples to a lab that retuned 40% of the insurance reimbursements to Marcotte. 

The lab owner then arranged with the managers of two rural hospitals in Florida to have the testing billed to private insurers at a better reimbursement under the hospitals’ in-network contracts.

The scheme expanded to include rural hospitals in Georgia, and more drug rehab centers, and laundered more than $57million in illicit reimbursements.

The owner of a Florida substance abuse treatment center pleaded guilty Tuesday to his role in a pass-through billing scheme that used rural hospitals to launder millions of dollars, the Department of Justice said.

Kyle Ryan Marcotte, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and agreed to forfeit $10.2 million. His sentencing date has not been set, DOJ said.

According to DOJ, Marcotte, the owner of a substance abuse treatment facility in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. In 2015, Marcotte sent his patients’ urine samples to a lab that retuned 40% of the insurance reimbursements to Marcotte.


The lab owner then arranged with the managers of Campbellton–Graceville Hospital and Regional General Hospital Williston in Florida to have the testing billed to private insurers through the rural hospitals at a better reimbursement under the hospitals’ in-network contracts, DOJ said.

Attempts by HealthLeaders’ to contact officials at Campbellton–Graceville Hospital and Regional General Hospital Williston for comment were not successful.

Marcotte also admitted that he brokered deals with other substance abuse treatment centers to have their urine tests billed through the two hospitals in exchange for Marcotte receiving 10% of the insurance reimbursements. The other rehab centers received 30% of the reimbursements, DOJ said.

The lab owner, who was not identified by DOJ, then acquired Chestatee Hospital, in Dahlonega, Georgia, and other rural hospitals, and Marcotte continued to supply samples from his rehab facility and brokered deals with other substance rehab facilities that used those hospitals, DOJ said.

The reimbursements were sent from the hospitals to the lab, which sent them to two companies Marcotte controlled, North Florida Labs and KTL Labs.

Marcotte used the reimbursements from KTL Labs to pay $50 million in kickbacks to at least 88 companies and people operating other rehab facilities who involved in the scheme.  The total amount of money involved in the laundering scheme was $57.3 million, DOJ said.

 

 

 

Will you get your Money’s Worth?

https://interimcfo.wordpress.com/2019/06/03/will-you-get-your-moneys-worth/

InterimCFO

All about Interim Executive Services in healthcare administration.

Will you get your Money’s Worth?

Abstract: This article is a continuation of the series on the value proposition of Interim Executive Consulting.  In this article, I look at the value proposition from the consultant’s perspective.

Recently, I was discussing an interim opportunity in a smaller hospital with a referral source.  The prospective argument was that the client did not have the capacity (did not want) to pay a market rate fee.  You never hear hospitals argue with their lawyers or other consultants on this point, but I digress.

Based on my experience, there are two things that you can be sure of in any interim engagement.  One is that as soon as you think you have an idea of what is going on around you, you had better get ready for a big and sometimes very nasty surprise.  The other is that you are going to find challenges and problems in the situation that the client either intentionally withheld or that the client had no idea of in the first place.  Some clients have told me after skeletons started falling from closets that they harbored the fear that if they were fully transparent that an interim consultant would refuse the gig.  What they do not know is that as professional Interim Executives, we usually do not get the call until the situation is challenging and that if we are distressed by the surprises and uncertainty that characterize Interim Executive Services, we would have found something else to do.  Remember, firefighters run toward a fire when everyone else is running away.

Another principle of doing interim work in my experience is that there is no correlation between the size of the organization and its capacity to produce drama, challenges, and vexing problems.  An argument can be made, and my on-point experience confirms that the risk is higher the smaller the organization because smaller organizations do not have the intellectual and bandwidth resources necessary to avoid creating or falling into serious problems.  If the issues have anything to do with compliance, the potential risks to the interim executive increase exponentially, especially if they are going to be executing documents or making representations on behalf of the organization.  Compliance related signatory authority risk is a risk that cannot be insured by either the consultant or the client. I told the referral source that if anything, there should probably be a significant premium associated with going into a smaller place.

What is a client to do?  I try to mitigate this risk for my client by offering a no-notice, no-fault termination clause in my contract.  The day that the client decides that I am not providing value, I am out of there.  I do not wish to become a perceived burden to an organization during what is already likely an awkward transition.  I have not been released from an interim engagement.  To the contrary, the opposite is true.  In every one of my interim engagements, the timeline has been extended, extensively in some cases once the client appreciates the value proposition.  My average ’90 – 120′ day gig lasts around nine months, and my longest has been over two years.

I have stated repeatedly in these articles that I do not follow bad people and I stand by that contention.  However, this does not mean that there will not be serious problems in an organization.  I followed a CFO that was compelled to resign among other things for digging in over what he believed was a non-compliant acquisition of a physician practice that had millions of dollars of goodwill baked into the deal along with lavish estimates of the value of furniture, fixtures, and equipment.  In another situation, the CEO had been overridden on multiple occasions by a Board that was determined to do non-compliant deals with physicians.  I could go on and on about these types of challenges.

Problems do not have to be compliance related to be challenging and of high potential value.  During the course of every engagement, I am routinely asked, “Is this the worst you have ever seen?”  Most of the time the answer is no, and in every case, it is situation specific.  I was engaged by a hospital to assess the revenue cycle.  Other than the AR being currently fairly valued following multiple unfavorable audit adjustments, about everything else in the revenue cycle process was broken as the client had expected.  The resulting intervention increased cash collections more than $10 million in the next year on around $300 million of revenue.  As an aside, in an organization of this size with a typical operating margin in the 3% range, this intervention more than doubled operating income so, in context, it was a pretty big deal.  This organization was trying to save money by doing things like buying thinner tongue depressors and cutting the amount of soap housekeeping could put in mop buckets while it threw away all of the savings and more in the revenue cycle.  It was the worst revenue cycle operation I have seen measured by results or lack thereof.  This same organization had some of the strongest and highest performing functions in other areas that I have experienced.  Even in the revenue cycle, I got to meet some of the smartest, most dedicated people I have ever known.  They were handicapped by a dearth of leadership and decrepit systems.  None of this supported a conclusion that the organization was terrible or on balance, it was the worst I have ever seen although the revenue cycle concerns did have something to do with the prior CFO being ‘freed up to seek other opportunities.’

What is a consultant to do?  My advice is to the degree possible and reasonable, stand your ground on your professional fee.  It would be nice if you knew you were going to a cake-walk that would mainly be a paid vacation and that you could confidently offer a come-on rate to land the gig.  You know the reality is that you are probably going into a complicated, high-stress situation that is going to tax all of your physical and mental capacity.  This situation is exacerbated by desperate or ignorant consultants and firms that will take any gig at any rate when they have an unsophisticated buyer or just to have something to do.  I have considered offering such a price based on not finding any problems.  For example, I could offer a 30% – 50% discount for a lush sabbatical that would be reversed if (when) issues begin to emerge.  Maybe I could even bargain to double my rate upon discovery of the first compliance problem.   Unfortunately, the world does not work this way, and if you are up against an unsophisticated or ignorant potential client, there is an excellent chance you are going to be undercut by an equally ignorant potential consultant.  You have to decide for yourself how much risk you are willing to take on.  How much is it worth to you to put yourself, your net worth and your family’s livelihood into play in a situation where you may be exposing yourself to the risk of becoming the target of a government compliance investigation?  In a bad case scenario, you could become a witness in a hostile position vis-a-vis the client. The government is currently pursuing multiple felony charges against John Holland (look him up on the internet) even though he alleges and there is apparently little evidence that he benefited directly or indirectly from compliance problems that occurred in organizations he served.  By the way, John may and probably did inherit some of the issues that resulted in criminal charges, i.e., the problems were present in the organization when he started.  Tell me again Mr. cut-rate consultant or firm how anxious you are to get yourself into a situation like this?  By the way, if you are placed by a firm and compliance problems emerge, you are going to be on your own.  Do not forget this.

If you are a decision maker and you are getting resistance to rate discounting from interim executive services providers, it is probably because of their prior experiences and bias about potential problems in your organization.  Instead of dismissing them for something cheaper, you might want to understand better where they are coming from and how that might translate into risk you are bearing that you might not even recognize.  You have to accept the fact that you would not be seeking interim services if you did not have a significant challenge on your hands.  Your best defense against getting into a deal that could make the situation worse is to negotiate an agreement that can be exited rapidly and without recourse. You may have problems that are as yet undiagnosed.  Your run in your current situation could be riding on the ability of the interim executive you choose to pull your bacon out of a fire and potentially save many of your direct reports’ jobs in the process.  What is that worth to you?

Contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these articles, leadership, transitions or interim services.  I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  An observation from my experience is that we need better leadership at every level in organizations.  Some of my feedback is coming from people that are demonstrating an interest in advancing their careers, and I am writing content to address those inquiries.

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